March 21, 2023

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As I left Bayshore mall on a sunny Sunday, think about my shock — as I appeared up from tucking away my masks and rummaging for a mint — when my eyes locked with a well-recognized face, however one I’d solely ever seen in digital actuality.

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I did a double, a triple, even a quadruple take. I needed to pause, mid-stride, and picture that very same face with a sq. border round it.

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Wait, is that actually … YOU?

Pre-pandemic, the traditional course of office occasions went one thing like this: New boss arrives on scene; greetings are issued; fingers are shaken; workplace tour commences; a relationship begins.

However in April of 2020, my new boss zoomed into my life, fairly actually. The place as soon as there was a clean sq., immediately it was stuffed with Debra’s vivacious laughter, signature earrings and vibrant headscarves. For almost two years, her raucous snort floated by way of my audio system, whereas her completely different worldview reoriented my pondering. Over time, she grew to become a buddy. (“Maintain on a sec, I’m simply going to place you down right here whereas I make a cup of tea.”) To me, this degree of connection, by no means having met in individual, was a testomony to the facility of expertise.

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Simply as her arrival, on the pandemic peak, was a strictly digital affair, the identical was true for my departure 18 months later. Omicron was raging, and I stated goodbye to my colleagues and mates with none of the standard rites of passage. No lengthy (maybe even boozy) lunch, no farewell toasts, no “I’ll see you round city” — as a result of we have been all at eating room tables, in spare bedrooms, closets, automobiles … and no matter quiet bubble we had carved out was unlikely to collide with that of our colleagues.

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So once I noticed Debra strolling in the direction of me, I believe we have been each in suspended animation as we recalibrated the blanks our minds had crammed in for us. In technological parlance, we have been frozen and on mute.

“I virtually didn’t acknowledge you,” I blurted. “I believed you have been taller!” We laughed, however she didn’t say “Me too.” (I need to radiate brief vibes — even when simply my head is seen.)

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The one expertise I might equate it to was once I was pupil at Carleton College, and I crossed paths with my professor after binge-watching 12 three-hour lessons of Fact and Propaganda on ITV, upfront of my examination. Solely in that case, I used to be on the receiving finish of a one-way dialog, so once I waved enthusiastically, my professor understandably started to stroll a bit sooner the opposite approach.

After we solely see individuals on display, regardless of how actual we perceive them to be, I believe our mind can’t fairly parse it. Possibly it’s a results of rising up on the “glass teat,” as Stephen King so aptly coined our collective TV dependancy. Maybe it’s an lack of ability to totally interact with the breadth of our self-expression — from assessing physique language to sniffing out invisible pheromones, each of which knit invisible connection.

My shock encounter was a reminder of the bounds of our courageous new world.

Debra’s smile, megawatt even on-screen, was all of the brighter in a dim parking zone. Her heat, whereas evident on-line, was redoubled in actual life. And, in contrast to olden days, our first face-to-face encounter wasn’t a well mannered handshake, however quite an extended overdue hug.

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Suzanne Westover is an Ottawa author.